New pop/worship artist Manny Benton is set to release his debut single, "I Look To You," July 28 with pre-orders starting July 17. The single will be released under Benton's independent label, Noisemakers Music Group, LLC.The new radio single, "I Look To You," was produced by Sean Hill (Jamie Grace, Brad Guldemond) and it reflects Benton's primary goal as an artist - helping point people to Christ.
Q: Manny, thanks for doing this interview with us. You came from a family of preachers, what are some of the blessings as well as challenges coming from a minister's family?
A: Thanks so much for having me! Growing up in a family of preachers and ministers has absolutely been a blessing. I joke all the time by saying I was essentially born in a church pew. But I'm really thankful for the foundation that was laid in my life. I remember my grandfather, Rev. Dr. Harrison Benton Jr., explaining to me as a teenager that ministry is serious business. I've learned a lot about integrity just by watching him and how he operates. Now that I'm beginning to establish my own music ministry, he's been a person I can constantly lean on for spiritual advice.
I guess the challenging part would be the pressure of meeting expectations. Really that's both internally and from others. My grandfather has a Doctor of Ministry degree and so I've always received this expectation from others that I better know my bible! Of course, you're expected to also carry yourself a certain way. I think that's why some "preacher's kids" decide to rebel -- because of the pressures. But my grandfather has always led by example rather than forcing things on me. I think that's why I never felt compelled to completely rebel.
Q: I believe a meeting with jazz pianist Brian Culbertson was what got you into music. Tell us a little more about how you came to meet Brian and what happened then?
A: I started taking piano classes when I was around four years old. But at some point, roughly around the age of 9, I stopped because it bored me! I was more interested in sports and the rigidness of piano class just wasn't for me at the time. I really wasn't passionate about music. That is, until my mom took me to the Capital Jazz Fest when I was around 11 years old.
I saw many musicians play that day, but Brian Culberson in particular really captured my attention. I remember just being amazed by how well he could play the keyboard. He made it look fun and cool. He was also very engaging and interacted with the crowd a lot. I didn't have an opportunity to meet him, but I left that concert with a spark inside of me. That spark led me to really become passionate about studying songs and learning how to play them by ear. That really helped me discover my creative side.
Q: If I am not wrong, your mother was also influential to you as far as music is concerned. Was she a musician too? How did she influence you?
A: You know, the funny thing is I have a lot of musicians in my family but they're literally all men! My mom is not a skilled instrumentalist or vocalist, but what she does have is a good musical ear. She knows what sounds good and isn't afraid to tell you when something doesn't sound good! I started to discover that I could sing when I was in my early teens. When she found out I could sing, she pushed me to use the gift. I'm not sure if I would have started singing if it wasn't for that nudge.
Q: You have also been leading worship at church. Tell us more about your church ministry.
A: Sure, so I started leading worship around the age of 17 at my grandfather's church. I went from leading our youth band to leading our adult praise team. Leading the praise team was my biggest challenge because it was a group of about 7 ladies. They were all over the age of 30 and none of them were skilled singers! So I had to get really creative! Most of the songs they sung were written by me. I tried to construct the songs in ways that were easy for them to learn and sing. In the meantime, the challenge of writing those songs really helped me develop my sound and overall writing ability.
My grandfather was an AME pastor and in that denomination you're required to retire at the age of 75. So when he retired in 2014, it was a tough transition for me musically. I believe the Lord was preparing me big time between 2014-2015. It's funny because that's around the time I really felt God tugging at my heart to record worship music.
I ended up leading worship at several churches before finally finding a new home at Lifepoint church in Waldorf, MD late 2015. I'm now one of the vocalist and keyboardist there. Prior to attending Lifepoint, I never played in a full band. The most I had accompanying me was a drummer. So it's been fun learning how to play with others.
Q: "I Look to You" is your brand new single. What's the story behind this song?
A: "I Look to You" was literally poured out from a heart that was heavy. I wrote it around the time of the 2016 Dallas police shootings. I think as a country, that entire week was tough. I remember talking with some friends from church about what we as Christians should do in times like this and I really had no answer other than to seek God. I think many times we are so quick to respond as humans, but our first response should be as Christians. So I sought the Lord through prayer asking for Him to reveal a word to me through scripture. I immediately felt led to read the book of Hebrews, specifically chapters 11-13. Those are well known faith chapters, but I love how it builds up from discussing what faith is to how we should fix our eyes on Christ who is the author and finisher of this faith.
What really became the foundation of the song was Hebrews 13:14 - "For here we have no enduring city, but we seek the city that is to come." That scripture set a fire in me because there's many people who believe all hope is gone when trouble occurs on this earth. But we as Christians have a responsibility to point people to that city we're constantly seeking. We are responsible for pointing people to Christ and this hope that's found in Him. So after reading that scripture, I literally had this tagline in my head, "In You there's hope | I look to you," for about a week. When I finally sat at my keyboard to write, immediately the song poured out. It was almost effortless. I love that this song is drenched in biblical truths about who Christ is and why we should look to Him.
Q: Sean Hill produced the single. How did you get to work with him? What do you appreciate about his involvement?
A: When I finally decided that I would record a song, I had some advisers who stressed to me the importance of having a quality producer. So while researching, at some point we came across Sean's work. When I heard some of the music he produced, I was immediately sold. He had the sound I was looking for. Plus, as a pianist, developing melodies is my strength. What I really wanted was a producer that could build the rhythm around those melodies. So when I learned how crazy good Sean is on the drums, I knew he was the guy!
What Sean did with "I Look to You" just blew my mind. He exceeded my expectations. He really took what I had demoed and just built around it. I like the fact that he uses extremely gifted musicians. His studio is in Georgia and I live in Maryland, so he sent me updates along the way. I remember the first time I heard the guitars added and how the song just soars at the second chorus. The first thing I said was, "if people have never encountered Jesus, they will when this second chorus hits!"
Sean is like a hidden gem in this industry. He's already worked with plenty notable artists. But his future is super bright and I'm just excited to create more songs with him.
Q: Are you currently working on your new album? Can you give us a preview of what we can expect from the album?
A: Since recording "I Look To You," I've been writing a lot of songs to narrow down for an EP. I'm really excited about several of the songs that could potentially be on the record. You will hear some songs that tap into my pop side. You'll also hear more of what I consider my interpretation of modern day hymns. I like to write worship songs from scripture and the trending topic for me seems to be on faith.
Q: What's next for you? The release of another single or album?
A: My goal is to start recording an EP before the end of this year. We will likely release another single off that EP first, but that's definitely the goal!